Tag Archives: rainforest

Finnish archaeologist digs up ancient civilization in Brazil

Archaeologist and professor Martti Pärssinen from the University of Helsinki has made a sensational find: he found signs of a unknown ancient civilisation in the Amazonian area, unearthing several unique artefacts, including entirely new forms of ceramics.

civilization 1

As bad as the clearing of Amazonian rainforests is, Pärssinen took advantage of it and studied some mysterious patterns in the earth. The large-scale patterns are best visible from the air, and he took several pictures from up above. The geometrical patterns mostly consisted of mounds and moats, many of them being huge, with sides measuring a few hundreds of meters; over 300 such structures were found in the Brazilian state of Acre alone. The construction feat has been compared by archaeologists to the pyramids in Egypt – Pärssinen believes just as much work (if not more) has been put into it.

“We are talking of enourmous structures, with diameters ranging from 100 to 300 meters, connected by straight orthogonal roads. They are strategically located on plateaux tops above the river valleys. Their builders took advantage of the natural topography in order to construct spaces that were full of symbolic meaning.”, said Denise Schaan, co-author of the study and anthropologist at the Federal University of Pará, in Belém, Brazil.

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The find has been a sensation and it put the entire Amazon basin in an entire new different light, as it was previously thought that only a few wandering tribes inhabited it – no significant civilization. Graduate student Ivandra Rampanelli from Spain’s University of València says the patterns are rewriting the history of habitation of the Amazon – an area which was thought to be sparsely populated. The finding also demolished the idea that soils in the upper Amazon were too poor to support extensive agriculture.

[Also Read: The most fascinating unexplained artifacts]

Radiocarbon dating conducted on the construction show that the earliest ones were built some 2.000 years ago, and the civilization hit an abrupt decline, virtually disappearing some 700 years ago, possibly due to diseases carried by Europeans.

civilization 3

“The geoglyphs are an astonishing discovery. They do not represent the ancient city full of gold long sought by the early explorers of the Amazon, but they are indeed an El Dorado to archaelogists: they are the vestiges of a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society.”, added Denise Schaan.

Among the recovered artefacts archaeologists noted 300 kilograms of pot shards, some of which feature ornamentation totally unknown to science, while some suggest distant connections to civilizations in the Andes. Pärssinen couldn’t be more happy, as the discoverer of this long lost civilization.

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An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

Ecuador plans to move ahead controversial drilling efforts in the Amazon

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador’s northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

Yasuni National Park to be one of the world’s richest biological hotspots, home to one of the densest biodiversity in the world. The region has been under threat, however, from oil drilling efforts for many years now, and a recent announcement from behalf of the Ecuador government further tightens the knot on the Amazon basin.  President Rafael Correa said that as the nearly three-years long international appeal of raising $3.6 billion in exchange for foregoing drilling has been unsuccessful, the government ‘needs’ to move on with the project.

Some 10,000 square kilometers of land amount to Ecuador’s side of Yasuni National Park, a protected area where a great number of unique species live exclusively, some of which are endangered. The Ecudoarian side is also home to some of the few groups of indigenous tribal groups left in the world who are in voluntary isolation : the Waorani indigenous people and two nomadic Waorani clans. It’s also home to oil, a lot of oil –  three contiguous blocks known collectively as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field.

The Yasuni drilling in Ecuador has been a matter of great debate and controversy for many years. A while back, Correa launched what is called the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, a 13-year plan under which the government would forgo drilling in the park in exchange for donations equaling one-half of the value of the oil, a sum that analysts put at $3.6 billion. The initiative failed miserably, as a mere $13 million in donations have been collected. Correa blamed “the great hypocrisy” of nations who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases.

“The world has failed us,” Correa said. “It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.”

Drilling oil in the middle of the Amazon

 

Of course, environmental groups were quick to oppose oil efforts in the region. According to recent polls, some 90% of Ecuadorians oppose drilling, however this number might dwindle has pro-drilling campaigns are prepped, meant to inform the general public on the benefits the project will have for the country’s economy and social well-being. This kind of advertisement will be joined by claims that the environmental impact of IIT Yasuni drilling will be minor.

Correa claims  that oil development would have an impact on less than 1% of the park and that the government would take steps to protect the environment. Local environmental specialists however are highly skeptical of this figure and question the means through which it was obtained.

“We know from experience that a road leads to loss or degradation of a swath of 5 to 8 kilometers wide,” says ecologist Kelly Swing, founder of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a field research center in the park. So “the 1% figure across the entire Yasuni Biosphere Reserve would amount to 20,000 hectares,” Swing says. “With over 100,000 species living in each hectare, we’re talking about a huge number of species and individuals.”

How ‘eco’ is Ecuador?

Just 50 kilometers north of Yasuni, a half-century of oil development has left little nature intact,  says  Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program coordinator at Amazon Watch in Quito. And other oil fields are being developed to the east and south, in effect surrounding Yasuni’s uncontacted tribes in the so-called intangible zone. One of the more troubling portions of Ecuador’s drilling plan is the inclusion of a 60-kilometer pipeline network to move the oil. Furthermore, there’s always the case of oil spills. With so much crude oil going about, were a spill to occur it could spell nothing short of disaster for Yasuni. “With this kind of heavy crude, it’s not a question of if there is going to be a spill,” he says. “Rather, when there is going to be a spill.”

Oil is Ecuador’s chief source of foreign earnings. The country produces 538,000 barrels of crude a day, delivering nearly half its production to the United States.

via Science Mag

rainforest insect

Any hectare in the rainforest has about 6,000 arthropod species lurking about

rainforest insect

(c) Corel Photography

In the most comprehensive and thorough survey of its kind, an international team of scientists sampled, sorted and cataloged every arthropod species they could find in patches of Panama’s San Lorenzo rainforest. During their survey of areas summing up to roughly three acres, the scientists estimated that a 6,000 hectare forest houses 25,000 arthropod species, 60% to 70% of which are likely to be previously unknown.

Almost 100 scientists were involved in the IBISCA-Panama project, which lasted almost a decade and whose findings were only recently published.

“This is the first time that diversity of all types of arthropods has been quantified from a tropical rainforest,” says ecologist Tomas Roslin of the University of Helsinki, an author of the new paper.

The scientists used 14 survey techniques to collect and categorize the various insects and spiders from 20-by-20 square meter plots in San Lorenzo Forest, this includes picking beetles from rotten wood, climbing trees and lifting helium balloons to reach the peaks of the rainforest trees, and pluck lingering insects off the branches. This operation continued for three seasons, time in which the researchers collected 129,494 arthropods, compared to mere thousands previous surveys achieved. The next 8 years were spent by the researchers identifying and cataloging the arthropod species. It’s worth mentioning that the arthropod family houses the most multicellular species. Practically, for every mammal species, there are 300 arthropod species that live in the rainforest alone.

The rainforest is bustling with life

Still, considering the huge number of insects collected, one can imagine that not every species was fully described, documented or even given a name, instead most of them were sorted by their basic characteristics, in order to lessen the load considerably, while not affecting the accuracy of the count. Some 0.48 hectares in combined surface were directly studied, where 6144 arthropod species were identified. By scaling up diversity values and extrapolating their known data, the researchers estimated the rainforest reserve harbors in excess of 25,000 arthropod species.

“If we are interested in conserving the diversity of life on Earth, we should start thinking about how best to conserve arthropods,” . “What surprised us the most was that more than half of all species could be found in a single hectare of the forest”, said Basset. “This is good news, as it means that to determine the species diversity of a tropical rainforest, we need not sample gigantic areas: a total of one hectare may suffice to get an idea of regional arthropod richness – provided that this total includes widely spaced plots representative of variation within the forest,” said Roslin.

One of the most interesting findings this massive research has to offer, however, lies in the byline. The scientists found a link between the number of arthropod species and the richness of plant diversity in the area.

“Another exciting finding was that the diversity of both herbivorous and non-herbivorous arthropods could be accurately predicted from the diversity of plants”, says Basset. “By focusing conservation efforts on floristically diverse sites, we may save a large fraction of arthropods under the same umbrella. Further, this strengthens past ideas that we should really be basing estimates of global species richness on the number of plant species,” stresses Roslin.

“While we have assigned immense resources to mapping our genes, resolving sub-atomic structures and searching for extra-terrestrial life, we have invested much less in exploring with whom we share the Earth. Why such research should be run on a shoe string budget just escapes me,” reflects Basset.

The findings were published in the journal Science.

via Wired

Amazon Forest

Amazon trees will withstand even the most pessimistic of global warming scenarios

Amazon Forest

Researchers from the University of Michigan and University College London have found that trees in the Amazon forest will be able to withstand even the most dreaded of forecasted  global warming scenarios from a century from now, after they showed they’ve withstood the test of time. The researchers found that most tree species had been around for millions of years, going through climates in Earth history much more threatening then that of the present or possible in the near future. While climate change might not be a big hurdle for the Amazon rainforest, ever increasing deforestation is a grave issue.

Past studies claimed that rising global warming would cause dreaded effects on tree species across the world, which might lead to their death as temperatures rise. Christopher Dick, of the University of Michigan, and colleagues studied mutations in DNA to determine the ages of 12 widespread Amazonian tree species, including the kapok and the balsa to read their recorded history.

Their results revealed that most tree species were older than 2.6 million years, seven have been present for at least 5.6million years, and three have existed in the Amazon  for a whooping 8 million years. Meaning they’ve caught some intensely warm climates, spanning temperatures far outreaching those predicted in the worse case scenarios made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the region in 2100. For instance, the researchers found surface air temperatures across Amazonia in the early Pliocene Epoch (3.6million to 5million years ago) were similar to the IPCC predictions for the region in 2100 with moderate carbon emissions. Similarly, air temperatures in the late Miocene Epoch  (5.3million to 11.5million years ago) were similar to those projected by the IPCC for the region in 2100 using the highest carbon-emission scenarios.

‘Our paper provides evidence that common Neotropical tree species endured climates warmer than the present, implying they can tolerate near-term future warming under climate change,’ said Professor Dick.

As they become fewer and fewer, however, the trees will have an increasingly hard time coping with climate change, since trees and plants absorb carbon. Fewer trees mean a warmer planet, and humans are certain to make their contribution. Deforestation is an increasingly pressing issue in the region. The authors recommend that a tough conservation policy should focus on preventing deforestation for agriculture and mining to preserve the Rainforest and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

‘The past cannot be compared directly with the future.’ he said. 

‘While tree species seem likely to tolerate higher air temperatures than today, the Amazon forest is being converted for agriculture and mining, and what remains is being fragmented by roads and fields.’

More research is needed though. For a lot of time, the Earth has experienced a rather cold climate. The researchers fear tolerance to warmer temperatures might have been lost along the countless generations.

“An important caveat is that because we’ve been in a cold period over the past 2 million years – basically the whole Quaternary Period – some of the trees’ adaptations to warmth tolerance may have been lost,” Dick said, adding that more research will be needed to “test whether this has occurred.”

Pre-glacial topographical reconstruction for Antarctica during Eocene–Oligocene times.

Antarctica was home to a rainforest some 50 million years ago

Scientists who studied sediment cores drilled from the ocean floor off the Antarctic coast, have found on subsequent analysis fossil pollens that came from a tropical forest. Most likely, the continent was covered by rainforest some 52 million years ago. The researchers involved warn however that by the end of the century, ice from the Antarctic might retreat at the current rate of global warming, leaving the continent once again ice-free.

Pre-glacial topographical reconstruction for Antarctica during Eocene–Oligocene times.

Pre-glacial topographical reconstruction for Antarctica during Eocene–Oligocene times.

Kevin Welsh, an Australian scientist who traveled on the 2010 expedition,  said that the international team of researchers he was a part of had discovered temperature-sensitive molecules in the cores showing that Antarctica was as warm as 68°F (20 Celsius) some 52 million years ago.

“There were forests existing on the land, there wouldn’t have been any ice, it would have been very warm,” Welsh told AFP of the study, published in the journal Nature.

“It’s quite surprising, because obviously our image of Antarctica is that it’s very cold and full of ice.”

The warmest global climates of the past 65 million years occurred during the early Eocene epoch (about 55 to 48 million years ago). Back then CO2 estimates of anywhere between 990 to “a couple of thousand” parts per million were presented in the atmosphere, compared to today’s CO2 levels estimated at 395ppm. The high level of CO2 is considered the major driver for atmospheric warming and Welsh said the most extreme predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change would see ice again receding on Antarctica “by the end of the century.”

“It’s difficult to say, because that’s really controlled by people’s and governments’ actions,” said Welsh, a paleoclimatologist from the University of Queensland. “It really depends on how emissions go in the future.”

During this mentioned period, the scientists believe the climate in lowland settings along the Wilkes Land coast (at a palaeolatitude of about 70° south) supported the growth of highly diverse, near-tropical forests characterized by mesothermal to megathermal floral elements including palms and Bombacoideae.

Currently, The ice on east Antarctica is 1.9-25 miles thick, and is thought to have formed about 34 million years ago.

Congo River

First human induced climate change may have occured 3,500 years ago

Congo River

The Congo River

While there are still a lot of climate change skeptics out there that argue that the human influence exerted upon Earth’s climate is minimal, if not non-existent, a myriad of research studies tackling the subject would say otherwise. Fossil fuels usage yields the most greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, out of all other human-induced pollutant activities. As the industrial age boomed in the XIX so did the poisoning of the environment, spurred by a reckless and inconsiderate attitude towards the surroundings. We could argue that they didn’t know one bit what they were doing at the time or what would be the consequences of their actions, but even so in the last 50 years – a time when climate change and global warming awareness is rampant – we’ve witnessed the highest greenhouse gas emission levels in recorded history.

Where did we go wrong? Will we ever be able to ecologically repent and make up for our wrongs? Progress is being made in this direction, but just at a philosophical level, by the world’s governments, which are now fully aware of the impact of human intervention upon the climate, and thus upon their nations’ prosperity. In 2010, CO2 levels reach a record height, up 45% than in 1990.  It’s expected that 2011 will slightly overthrow the previous year, after scientists have enough data to make a pertinent study.

So where did this all begin? A new paper recently published in the journal Science, describes the researchers study of sediment cores from the mouth of the Congo River, the deepest river in the world, suggests that man might have played a major role in altering the Central African environment. Analysis showed that around 3,500 years ago the river suddenly began to dump a lot more muck, despite no change in rainfall. This is a typical effect caused by farming. The researchers hypothesize that this must have coincided with the arrival of the Bantu people in the region, who also introduced farming.

The Bantu grew oil palm, pearl millet and yams. These crops require plenty of sunlight to flourish, and naturally deforestation followed, which is today the second greenhouse gas inducing factor. Also, trees were cut down for fire, which allowed for the manufacturing of tools and weapons.

The Congo river flows through one of the world’s biggest and lush rainforests in the world, however, it’s intriguing how it also suddenly transits through the savannas as well. Scientists believe that a climate shift from warm and humid to seasonally cooler and drier lead to the creation of savannas, however sediment samples that hold critical geological record from the past 40,000 years state otherwise – see the muck deposits.

The intro to this study synthesis was a bit long, however I feel it was required to give context to this importing finding, in my opinion. Tracing back our steps from the very beginning, like in the case of a individual, helps us learn a great deal about ourselves, and what pushes us to do all sort of things. Education is the key to our survival and evolution.

[source]

 

Young oil palm in plantation in Indonesia. The mature plant is used to produce biofuels, an alternative clean energy in emissions, however thousands of hectars of rainforest have been swept to make way for the palm. Because oil palms don't absorb as much CO2 as the rainforest or peatlands they replace, palm oil can generate as much as 10 times more carbon than petroleum. (Photo: T. Durand-Gasselin)

Biofuels aren’t so green after all

Young oil palm in plantation in Indonesia. The mature plant is used to produce biofuels, an alternative clean energy in emissions, however thousands of hectars of rainforest have been swept to make way for the palm. Because oil palms don't absorb as much CO2 as the rainforest or peatlands they replace, palm oil can generate as much as 10 times more carbon than petroleum. (Photo: T. Durand-Gasselin)

Young oil palm in plantation in Indonesia. The mature plant is used to produce biofuels, an alternative clean energy in emissions, however thousands of hectars of rainforest have been swept to make way for the palm. Because oil palms don't absorb as much CO2 as the rainforest or peatlands they replace, palm oil can generate as much as 10 times more carbon than petroleum. (Photo: T. Durand-Gasselin)

Biofuels are considered one of the leading alternative fuels on the market right now, because of their lower impact on the environment. Biofuels are made from plants or animals, and have gained a lot of attention from the general public and scientists driven by a need for increased energy security and concern for greenhouse gas emissions. However, biofuels aren’t all green. To make biofuels, a huge amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere, not by combustion, but as a result of its production process. A team of researchers from University of Leicester have revealed in a recently published study that carbon dioxide emission levels, due to oil palm plantations, are more than 50 percent larger than previously thought.

Previous studies have displayed erroneous results, since a number of various factors weren’t taken into account, as opposed to the current study. The Leicester researchers show that the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on peat is significantly higher than previously assumed. Previous studies estimated around 50 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year, the price paid for manufacturing biofuels, however the true figure is around 86 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year.

“CO2 emissions increase further if you are interested specifically in the short term greenhouse gas implications of palm oil production – for instance under the European Union Renewable Energy Directive which assesses emissions over 20 years, the corresponding emissions rate would be 106 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year,” they note.

“This research shows that estimates of emissions have been drawn from a very limited number of scientific studies, most of which have underestimated the actual scale of emissions from oil palm. These results show that biofuels causing any significant expansion of palm on tropical peat will actually increase emissions relative to petroleum fuels. When produced in this way, biofuels do not represent a sustainable fuel source,” said Leicester’s Ross Morrison.

Over the past decade alone, biofuel production, especially biodiesel has soared, as the manufacturing technology, as well as the finished product itself, has become more efficient and cheaper. Just in 2010 worldwide biofuel production reached 105 billion liters (28 billion gallons US), up 17% from 2009, and biofuels provided 2.7% of the world’s fuels for road transport, a contribution largely made up of ethanol and biodiesel. This growth, however, has to be backed-up by a matching production chain, which inherently involves the oil palm business on tropical forests and carbon dense peat swamp forests in particular.

The rain forest in particular is affected by this, because of the enormous pressure imposed by plantations. Projections indicate an increase in oil palm plantations on peat to a total area of 2.5M hectares by the year 2020 in western Indonesia alone – an area equivalent in size to the land area of the United Kingdom. The plantation also uprooted monkeys and wild boar, which began raiding the neighboring community’s food supply.

It’s incredibly saddening that a “clean” source of energy such as this has to be tainted by careless expansion operations, which significantly harm the environment. Hopefully, the present discussed paper, which has already been acknowledged by top government climate officials and scientists alike, will help sprung actions for measures to be taken.

“It is important that the full greenhouse gas emissions ‘cost’ of biofuel production is made clear to the consumer, who may otherwise be mislead into thinking that all biofuels have a positive environmental impact. In addition to the high greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil palm plantations on tropical peatlands, these agro-systems have also been implicated in loss of primary rainforest and associated biodiversity, including rare and endangered species such as the orang-utan and Sumatran tiger,” co-researcher Sue Page, warned.

“Our study has already been accepted and used by several scientists, NGOs, economists and policy advisors in Europe and the USA to better represent the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil biodiesel production and consumption,” she added. “This is essential in identifying the least environmentally damaging biofuel production pathways, and the formulation of national and international biofuel and transportation policies.”

via

Brazil’s government approves of rainforest destruction. Next day, two environmental activists get shot

It’s a black period for Brazil’s environment, and things will get even worse in days to follow; the government just applied a reform of the forestry code which will make it extremely easy to cut down massively on the rainforests in Brazil.

Money money money

After several delays and a desperate, but outnumbered resistance, the revised forest code was adopted with a vast majority; the bill was proposed by Communist Party lawmaker Aldo Rebelo, which explains things pretty well – money is alwas going to beat… well everything.

“This vote represents the biggest setback to Brazil’s environmental legislation in decades,” Raul Silva Telles do Valle, assistant coordinator of the Socioenvironmental Institute, told IPS.

It is indeed, a defeat suffered by the environment, and a sad one too, in one of the areas where it needs victory most.

“It’s a law that looks to the past, not the future,” WWF-Brazil’s conservation director Carlos Alberto de Mattos Scaramuzza told IPS.

Among the many things this bill will do, it will grant amnesty on fines to landowners who illegally chopped down forest on their property, as long as the deforestation took place before July 2008 and the farm is 400 hectares or less in size. It will also reduce the amount of forest the farmers will have to preserve, not to mention retroactively legalise the clearing of land that is used for agricultural purposes, tree plantations, or rural and eco-tourism, if it was deforested before July 2008.

President Dilma Rousseff took a somewhat clear stance, threatening with a veto against portions of the law.

Deadly “coicidences”

The vote coincided with the tragical death of two of Brazil’s most prominent environmental activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, 52, and his wife, Maria; their ears were reportedly cut off, as a proof of their deaths. They were ambushed by gunmen, after receiving numerous treats for militating against illegal tree cutting; makes a lot of sense, right ?

“Brazil woke up to the news of the murders of two leading environmental activists, and it’s going to bed with the murder of the forest code,” Greenpeace Brazil ecologist Paulo Adario told the press.

Over 60% of the Amazonian rainforest is in Brazil. Deforestation hit wild rates until the turn of the century, but after that, things started to settle down a little, and after 2004, the deforestation rates, although still big, hit a low. After this bill makes it’s mark however, things will definitely change, and we will get to see more and more of Brazil balding, and destroying one of the most special environments in the world.